After a highly successful 2016 tour, Impropera brings Muso back to selected museums across London in 2017-18. Camille LaPaix and Cindy Marcolina catch the group at the Grant Museum:

There is a very thin, unavoidable line between what we may find enjoyable and what can be painfully and thoroughly dreadful. For instance, visting the inherent beauty of London’s museums? Yes. But encountering crowds of strangers with noses firmly pressed against the window displays? Not so much. Impropera blur this line like magic, allowing a small audience to fulfill their childhood dream of wandering into a museum after dark. With Muso, opera becomes funny, engaging, and surprisingly informative at the hands of the company, who are helped by a couple of academics and an almost nightmarish atmosphere.

Muso is the lovechild – brainchild, if you will – of a collaboration between academia, opera and audience participation. Harmonised improvisations and improvised harmonisations come to life in the Grant Museum as the gallery slowly falls asleep. “Finally, it’s all over” sings David Pearl’s company, in a surprisingly moving exploration of the vestiges’ innermost self:

“The exploded skull went home”

One would think that the theatricality of the show might be underlooked, with the stage being the main room of the museum and the set design being the display windows. In fact, it makes the whole performance more grounded and original. Creatures from all over the world — whether as skeletons or in formaldehyde solutions — look over as the company sings to Anthony Ingle’s inventive tunes. Academic performer Chiara Ambrosio and professor Helen Chatterjee provide plenty of anecdotes and insights into the curiosities sequestered away within the museum.

Muso Grant Museum Impropera

In Muso, you can leave your passiveness behind: the audience steers the performers in the direction of what sparks their interest. Now, we can delight our friends with the story of how Mary Ann Mantell, Gideon Mantell’s wife, and her sister stumbled onto the “enormous” teeth of the Iguanodon. The museum itself becomes a character in the story, all the cast celebrating its history and achievements. After a lazy wander around the room, participants are asked to share the most interesting anecdotes they can find, which leads to impromptu songs about japanese flying spiders and seeing Jesus’ face in a cuttlefish.

Muso Grant Museum Impropera

Ich gaspen! Ich gaspen!” bursts out the explosive collaboration in a surprising take of Schubert’s influence, before Professor Chatterjee’s passion for gibbons (who often sing about love) takes to the stage. This extremely interactive piece is full of surprises, yet still manages to be highly informative (who knew that the vocal range of gibbons is the most similar to that of humans?) and sincerely funny. Even better, the slightly misogynistic jabs are made up for with an even participation of male and female cast members, who poke fun at both sexes in an equal measure, an originality for opera connoisseurs.

With Muso, Impropera writes a love letter to improv, music and science. There is something refreshing in the lyrical improvisations, especially in such an intimate space – a je ne sais quoi that lets you leave the museum having shared a quiet secret with a handful of strangers.

 

Co-written with Cindy Marcolina

To read more about Improperpa, whose show Muso is playing in selected London museums in 2018, follow the company on Twitter (@Impropera) or visit the website – www.impropera.co.uk